Flash Review, Issue #005

Here are a few short reviews of books I’ve read in the past month.

The Screaming Divas by Suzanne Kamata

Provided by the publisher for review. Find Suzanne’s interview at Girls in Capes.

When I started this book, I was expecting something more along the lines of a book about a band, with a lot of practicing and concerts, but the book ended up reading more like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants except with a punk band instead of magic jeans.

Originally, I’d set this book aside because the first chapter didn’t hook me, but I’m glad I ended up following through, because as it turns out, the character (Trudy) whose point of view is shown in the first chapter is the least interesting and relatable.  I enjoyed each of the other three girls’ plotlines, especially Esther’s, and I found some of my own life experiences reflected in Harumi.  Cassie was my favorite of the girls, though I didn’t quite like the progression of her plot.

The Screaming Divas was a fascinating read after that initial bump, but the strange change of pace towards the end and the overall plot wasn’t really for me.  However, the book has fascinating diversity and represents each character in what I find to be a very fair way.

3 out of 5 stars

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Purchased for the Girls in Capes book club.

Octavia Butler’s been on my list a long time, and KINDRED was an incredible introduction to this prolific science fiction author.  Following a woman as she gets yanked back and forth in time between the present day (1976) and the antebellum South, the novel is harsh and emotionally difficult in the best kind of way.

Its emotional difficulty will turn many readers off, but this book is an important one to read, especially for those interested in history.  Despite its genre, KINDRED is an obviously well-researched and deeply thoughtful read.

5 out of 5 stars

Tonight’s talk on Strong Female Characters at Bedford Library

I’m rolling through Michigan tonight!  You can visit Bedford Library at 6 p.m. for a talk on Strong Female Characters in books for teens.  Here’s the official description from the Monroe County Library System’s website:

Ever notice that readers who talk about “strong female characters” only seem interested in girls who use physical strength? There are plenty of ways for girls (and boys) to be strong without using their fists – and THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL’s Agatha, BORN WICKED’s Cate, and FANGIRL’s Cath are all strong female characters who become strong in a totally different way. Come see this special presentation by girlsincapes.com founder and editor, Feliza Casano. There will be pizza!

The presentation is expected to run for about 30, and I’ll also have a few things to give away.  This is open for all ages, but I would recommend the talk for ages 14 to 18.

If you’re a student at Toledo Early College High School, check out the description on the TECHS Cultural Events blog.

You can learn more about Girls in Capes at the main website, or you can follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

My most anticipated Fall 2014/Winter 2015 continuing series (Orbit Books)

One of my favorite publishers is Orbit Books.  That’s kind of a difficult thing to say, since there are tons of publishers that put out books I adore — Firebird, Penguin’s SPEAK imprint, Quirk Books, Dark Horse, and First Second all come to mind – but most books I’ve read from Orbit US have been right up my alley — this year alone, there was the conclusion of Rachel Bach’s Paradox trilogy and M. R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts.

Most of the books from Orbit are ones I review for Girls in Capes, but not all of them are right for the site, so my reviews don’t always get posted there.  However, there are quite a few titles due out this year that I’m really looking forward to checking out.

Continue reading

Summer Anime 2014: Mid-Season Update

The summer anime season is partway through, and I thought I’d list some changes I’ve made to my Summer 2014 viewing list.  (You can find the original here.)

What I’ve been watching from that list: Sailor Moon Crystal, Aldnoah Zero, Sword Art Online II, and Haikyuu!.

After watching two episodes of GLASSLIP, my boyfriend and I decided it was too confusing (and too boring) to continue.  The plot was confusing and vague, and we weren’t actually sure what was supposed to be going on in the series.  As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones, because a friend mentioned the following week that she’d dropped the series as well because she thought it was just uninteresting.  In my previous post, I mentioned Ao Haru Ride (English title Blue Spring Ride), but I haven’t actually started that series yet…

The most change, though, comes in the simulcast series I’ve added since then.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun. Anime image from Crunchyroll.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun. Anime image from Crunchyroll.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun.  This is definitely the best addition to my currently-watching list.  Listed in English as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, this series is about a girl named Chiyo who confesses to her crush Nozaki-kun, telling him she’s his fan, only for him to respond by giving her an autograph.  As it turns out, he’s actually a mangaka — a shoujo mangaka who’s pretty widely reknown for having insight into the hearts of young girls.  Except Nozaki-kun is pretty dense about Chiyo’s feelings for him.

So far, I’ve loved this show SO MUCH.  Every episode has me actually laughing out loud, which is pretty rare for me.  Almost every character represents a major anime trope, but the show is very self-aware, and Nozaki-kun and Chiyo both observe different characters acting like manga characters.  The plot doesn’t seem to have a specific goal in mind — it’s based on a 4-koma — but it’s incredibly enjoyable so far, and I’ve watched a number of episodes multiple times and had an excellent time with every re-watch.

Love Stage!!.  Conversely, Love Stage!! is kind of a terrible anime.  Based on a BL manga of the same name, Love Stage!! is about an 18-year-old guy who’s the second son in a family of entertainers who is a bit traumatized by being forced to dress as a girl for a commercial during childhood.  As it turns out, the boy who was in the commercial with him remained in the entertainment world, and when their paths cross again, the guy falls for him and decides it doesn’t matter if he’s not a girl.

Almost everything about this show is not to my preference.  First off, I’m not much of a BL (Boys’ Love) manga/anime type of person, and the art style is just a little off from what I’d typically enjoy – there are some things that just look weird to my eyes.  But like Nozaki-kun, Love Stage!! is pretty self-aware — the protagonist bursts out at one point yelling “AM I THE UKE?!” — and it’s weirdly difficult to stop watching.  I’ll probably finish it out, since I’m through 6 out of 10 episodes.

Persona 4: The Golden Animation.  P4GA is pretty low on my priority list.  I’m watching with my boyfriend, who was a huge Persona 3 fan when he played the game.  This one feels casual to watch, and I’m not that emotionally invested, but the art is lovely and I’m at least interested in finding out where it’s all going in the end.

Rail Wars!.  I started Rail Wars! because I saw it on Crunchyroll while browsing for a show to watch with my brother.  While we ended up settling on Love Stage!! instead, Rail Wars! stayed in the back of my mind, because I had no idea how a show about teenagers who want to work for a rail line would be interesting.

Let me just say that it’s actually SUPER interesting.  It’s also not at all what you think it might be.  Yes, the four characters in Rail Wars! want to work on a rail line — all of them with different exact goals, like the protagonist’s goal of becoming a train engineer — but for now, they’re stuck in Railway Security, and they get into all sorts of shenanigans.  Definitely worth checking out the first couple episodes.

Akame ga Kill.  I’ll admit I binged six episodes of this last night after seeing this post from Crunchyroll.  Without context, I just looked at the picture, thought “Whoa, so badass,” and found the show about 45 minutes later.

My knowledge of the show was pretty limited — all I knew was that in involved swords and cute girls, which is pretty vague as anime descriptions go — but it’s definitely worthwhile, something like a mix between Attack on Titan, Madoka*Magica, and Fullmetal Alchemist.  It’s an anime about assassins, but telling you much more will definitely spoil some surprises.  If you’re on the squeamish side, this show may not be for you, since the cartoon violence is pretty intense (though not to Psycho-Pass/Tokyo Ghoul levels) and because IT’S A SHOW ABOUT ASSASSINATIONS.

Anyway.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season will bring.  What have you dropped or picked up mid-season?

Flash Review, Issue #004

Here are a few short reviews of the books I’ve been reading recently.

 The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

This book was practically impossible to tear myself away from to do otherwise unimportant things like eating, sleeping, or going to my job.  Blending elements of thriller, historical fiction, and the supernatural, THE STRING DIARIES is first and foremost the story of a line of women with the desire to survive in the face of unimaginable danger and, secondarily, about the lovers and family members willing to do anything to ensure they can do just that.

There’s little I can say without giving away key elements of the story, but this is one novel that doesn’t hesitate to make its characters pay heavy prices, and even its relatively “happy” ending has enough foundation built so much earlier in the story that it doesn’t feel oddly deus ex machina.  Definitely a recommended read.

Black and White (Noughts & Crosses) by Malorie Blackman

My official Goodreads review for this book is very simple:

The only thing I can really say about this book without giving up a lot of spoilers is that it makes me want to lay on the floor in a ball and cry in the best way possible.

The only thing I’d want to add is that I feel this book is very important for people with racial privilege to understand the base level of racism in the US.  I feel Blackman’s attention to detail really digs in to make the reader understand, on both a conscious and unconscious level, what discrimination feels like.

Summer Anime 2014: The Launchboard

I’ve never much been one to watch simulcast anime, but since receiving a Crunchyroll Premium membership as a gift (and subsequent access to simulcasting Sailor Moon Crystal), I figure now may be a decent time to start.  I’ll be watching a number of anime this season, and I’ll be making my marathon-or-drop recommendations at the end of the season.

Sailor Moon Crystal.  I mean, really, did you think this wouldn’t be top of my list? It’s been my number one since the date was settled, and the first episode didn’t fail to deliver what I was looking for: an updated art style that followed the story I remember while adding enough newness to feel fresh and fun.

Sword Art Online II. Recently, I made my boyfriend and two of my friends watch SAO so we could watch Season Two.  I was pretty sorely disappointed with the second half of the first season, but my satisfaction with the recent English translation of the light novel brought me back to the franchise.

Aldnoah Zero. My boyfriend was particularly interested in checking this out based on its promotions on Crunchyroll, and the first episode made me incredibly interested in finding out what happens next.  Aldnoah may be my next Attack on Titan: the first episode yanked me into its intense and dismal sci-fi universe.  The suspense might actually kill me, but I’ll try to hold out.

Ao Haru Ride.  Eng. Blue Spring Ride.  The manga for Ao Haru Ride is adorable and feels like a bit of a spiritual successor to series such as Kimi ni Todoke and Sukitte ii Na Yo.  I’m looking forward to this series, even if it’s a bit on the over-light side.  (Besides, I’ll have to recover from Aldnoah SOMEHOW.)

GLASSLIP. A friend recommended this after watching the first episode herself, and I found the opening episode… interesting.  I’m not sure if I like it or not, so I may end up dropping this series if the second episode doesn’t give me a more clear idea of why I should care about it.

I’m also playing a little bit of catch-up with Haikyu!, a men’s volleyball anime that’s intense and also very intricately animated.  I played two years of volleyball in middle school, and while I was really — not very good at it, it’s always been something I enjoyed, so watching Haikyu! has been a lot of fun so far.

There are so many exciting series to watch on simulcast, even if you’re not totally binging on the series you missed while you were finishing your school year or running your kids between practices and classes.  What anime are you watching this summer?

Marathon or Drop? Akuma no Riddle

The Spring 2014 anime season was a little bare, but there’s always at least one or two eye-catching titles I want to check out every week.  This season, the only anime I was compelled to watch — aside from Soul Eater NOT!, which I’d been anticipating — was Akuma no Riddle, released in English as Riddle Story of the Devil.

The thirteen girls in the Black Class in Akuma no Riddle.

The thirteen girls in the Black Class in Akuma no Riddle.

Akuma no Riddle is the story of the Black Class, thirteen girls in a single special class at an elite high school in Japan.  Twelve of the girls are assassins of varying calibers; the thirteenth is their target.  At least until one of the assassins, Toukaku, turns around and steps up as a defender of the target, a sweet and clueless-seeming girl named Haru.

I started watching Akuma no Riddle with a certain level of expectation. It’s one of the first yuri/shoujo-ai anime I’ve seen — unless you count Sailor Moon, which doesn’t really count in the North American dub — and based on the variety of yuri/shoujo-ai manga I’ve read in the past, I was curious to see what Akuma no Riddle might do the same or differently.

In terms of the art, my expectations were met completely.  A fast Google search brings up plenty of clips from the manga, and the anime’s color style is a good translation of the black-and-white manga.

One of my favorite things about this anime?  The super-creepy facial expressions.

Facial expressions are usually my favorite thing about anime and manga, anyway, but the expressions in Akuma no Riddle pretty much blast other creepy facial expressions out of the water.  The best ones are from Nio, the small blonde towards the front of the cast picture above, who serves as the main organizer of the girls in the Black Class.  She’s got by far the creepiest of manga expressions, and the anime stays faithful to that as well.

When watching an action-adventure anime, there are really two main aspects to evaluate: character development and awesome action scenes.  Like many action-adventure anime — especially ones with just 12 episodes, as Akuma no Riddle has — this series manages to hit only one of these aspects.  The assassin-on-assassin fight scenes are intense and a ton of fun, even though some of them turn pretty gross, and each girl’s specialty, ranging from sword-fighting to bombs to a pair of giant scissors, makes each episode an exciting ride.

The girl on the left is my favorite character and has a relatively in-depth backstory compared to the other characters.

The girl on the left is my favorite character and has a relatively in-depth backstory compared to the other characters.

Unfortunately, the time devoted to the fight scenes significantly reduces the amount of time available to develop the characters, their personalities, or their relationships to one another.  While one pair of assassins in particular has a pretty cute relationship (for assassins, anyway), their friendship-but-probably-more is the only one besides that of Toukaku and Haru.  I was itching to see more interactions between the characters — they live in pairs in the dorms, with some getting along well and others, uh, not — and more time devoted to each one before she mysteriously disappeared after her assassination attempt.

Akuma no Riddle is definitely the sort of show to marathon when you’re bored or just want to watch some epic fight scenes, and its 6-hour total run time makes it easy to marathon in one night or on a sick day.  But if your anime viewing habits require more character-building, this may not be quite for you.

You can find Akuma no Riddle on Hulu under the title Riddle Story of the Devil.